Thursday, May 24, 2012

Super Big Canada II

Doug Saunders has a column in the Globe and Mail arguing for massive immigration to increase the population of Canada to 100 million. It's a better argument than Robert Kaplan's argument to the same conclusion last year, but still has many of the same problems. I was amused by this:

Today we need to recognize the fact that, despite what Laurier did a century ago, Canada remains a victim of underpopulation. We do not have enough people, given our dispersed geography, to form the cultural, educational and political institutions, the consumer markets, the technological, administrative and political talent pool, the infrastructure-building tax base, the creative and artistic mass necessary to have a leading role in the world.

Because our immigration rates have remained modest and our birth rate is low, our population will grow only slightly – to perhaps 50 million by mid-century. By that point, the world’s population will almost have stopped growing and it will be difficult to attract large numbers of immigrants. At current rates, Canada will have lost its chance to be a fully formed nation.

Canada is already a fully formed nation and has a leading role in the world, being a notable diplomatic influence and exerting a moderating and mediating influence on some of the world's major powers. It has rather good cultural institutions, decent educational and political institutions, a healthy consumer market, and an extraordinary talent pool. It is true that some of this is managed by very careful government regulation. It does have very serious ongoing infrastructure problems, but immigration would provide no direct solution to this, since its most immediate effect would be to put greater strain on the infrastructure, and immigration-focused tax-base expansion is an extremely indirect way to raise new funds. (Immigrants, for instance, consistently make less than non-immigrants for decades after they enter.) It's also clear that nations with larger populations often have even more serious infrastructure problems, so there's no automatic connection between higher immigration and better infrastructure. Rather, it seems that the reverse is necessary: serious expansion of immigration requires that you get your infrastructure house in order first, or at least be in the process of doing so.

Another amusing bit:

Canada’s environment would probably be far better protected: Densely populated places like California and France tend to do better at conservation than empty zones like the Asian steppe, which produced such ecological catastrophes as the Aral Sea disaster unobserved. The threats of global warming – notably ocean-level rises – will require large-scale infrastructure projects that must rely on a large tax base. And it’s no coincidence that the most progressive climate-change policies are found in the countries with the most dense populations.

Yes, or it could be that California and France make it a very high priority. One could argue that this is due to dense population -- dense populations increase the tendency to environmental degradation but also force people to deal with the problems raised by environmental degradation quite directly. But this is, again, quite indirect. And the problem with large-scale infrastructure projects is that they are only large scale because of geography or large population, and Canada's infrastructure propblem -- like those of the United States, which has ten to twelve times the population and thus "a large tax base" -- is due primarily to refusing to spend a reasonable portion of tax revenues on maintenance and development; where nations spend a reasonable amount, they tend to have the infrastructure required for their population and geography.

And, of course, you have the usual graying-Canada arguments, which are, however they are framed, arguments that immigrants should be brought in so that they can be exploited for the benefit of non-immigrants.

In practical terms, Saunders proposes bringing in 400,000 to 450,000 immigrants a year (about one and a half to two times what it does now). In practice, of course, this would mean steadily increasing the populations of Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal for the next several years until, by spill-over effect, the rest of the population strip along Canada's southern border is economically and infrastructurally capable of absorbing them. There are labor shortages in a number of places in Canada -- Alberta, especially -- but (1) labor shortages are in skilled workers, who have to be taken as they come; and (2) Canada notoriously has difficulty bringing skilled labor in as it is, because it takes forever to get into Canada, and Canada is notoriously inconsistent in what it considers acceptable credentials. The whole system would have to be revamped; and, what is more, it's not clear that simply revamping the system wouldn't get you better results than aiming for that 100 million.

This think-tank idea seems to go around quite a bit in Canada. The problem with it is not the suggestion that Canada should increase immigration, which may well be true; rather, the problem is that it's proposed as a quick-fix solution to problems it pretty clearly would not fix. All the problems Saunders lists are problems that have other solutions; the immigration increase is only relevant because it is assumed that it would contribute ot these other solutions.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.